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S K Y L I N E | How Can Someone Own the Land?
Emanuel Admassu, Amale Andraos, Raven Chacon, David Fortin, Jocelyn Piirainen
Issue 87. We are pretty good online, but best in print. Click here to receive the current and future issues.
In every instance, issues of land and labor, economy and material, converge to reflect the society that produces any building. But beyond the passive politics of construction, buildings and infrastructure can be weaponized to make claims on a land, or against a people. Whether through aggressive settlement programs, forced displacement, or oil pipelines running through Indigenous land and highways cutting across marginalized neighborhoods, these claims are predicated on the myth of otherness. It’s a myth that speaks of empty wildernesses, of no-man’s lands inhabited by no one—or at least, no one who matters.
The dispatches gathered for this week’s Skyline tackle these questions in various ways. David Fortin, quoting Winnie Pitawanakwat, calls land ownership into question; Raven Chacon engages landscapes through sound; C.J. Alvarez reflects on the politics of trans-border natural resources. An interview with artist and curator Jocelyn Piirainen offers visions for trans-Arctic collaboration that transcend borders.
—Sebastián López Cardozo
Gallery Talk with Artist and Curator Jocelyn Piirainen
Currently on view at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), ᐊᖏᕐᕋᒧᑦ (Angirramut) / Ruovttu Guvlui / Towards Home showcases six installations by Indigenous artists. The Indigenous-led project was developed by curators TAQRALIK PARTRIDGE, JOAR NANGO, JOCELYN PIIRAINEN, RAFICO RUIZ, and designed by TIFFANY SHAW. Last week, I visited the exhibition and spoke with Piirainen about curatorial autonomy, the politics of space, and more.
Sebastián López Cardozo: I was struck by something you said in a recent talk with your co-curator, Rafico Ruiz: “We’re going forward with this idea that our community comes first, that we’re autonomous—not to deliberately exclude others, but to say, finally, ‘Well, [the exhibition] isn’t actually for you.’” So much cultural production targets the broadest possible audience, but here you’re claiming the opposite. Can you elaborate on how ideas of autonomy and self-determination unfold in the CCA exhibition?
Jocelyn Piirainen: From our initial conversations, there was always this sense that this was to be an exhibition that came from us, and from our own lived experiences. I remember speaking, very early on, with Taqralik, Joar, as well as Nicole [Luke, a collaborator and contributor to the show], and we came to the conclusion that we had to ensure that we made a space where Inuit and Indigenous people would feel welcome, that even the text and exhibition didactics were written in a way that were accessible to many folks. That was something I really felt was important. As a curator who doesn't have a Masters or a PhD in curatorial/museum studies, I find that exhibition texts can sometimes get bogged down in academic jargon.
Within the design and installation of the show, we also wanted to create a space that felt familiar to those living within the circumpolar North. It was great to work with all of the artists involved—and it felt like creating that familiar “Northern” space came naturally through their work. Geronimo Inutiq’s installation comes to mind, or even the “porch” that was recreated at the entrance of the exhibition.
SLC: There are many architectural drawings in the show. Was it important to you to engage with the politics of space through buildings?
JP: The exhibition, being hosted at an architectural institution, naturally gave way to certain curatorial decisions, including the decision to have drawings of buildings. The drawings included are really spaces or places that the artists have (again) experienced themselves, lived in or around. I would say much of the artwork comes from these personal perspectives. The drawings also further the feeling of being in the North. I think that the architecture of the North—and building there, on the land—is so vastly different than building in the “South.” I feel that it has taken architects quite some time to figure out the best ways of building in the North. I’m happy to hear, though, that more and more are Inuit and those living on the Northern lands are being consulted and included in conversations about building on the land, and to make spaces for the people that are living there.
10/6: Do They Think They Own the Trees Too?
SAN FRANCISCO — How can we re-envision architecture as a tool for reciprocity and liberation, and not merely as a means for property building and land acquisition? Perhaps a rapid-fire series of short presentations from architects and scholars isn’t the most effective format to drum up an answer. Instead, the event (hosted by the California College of the Arts Architecture Division) sparked further questions. When EMANUEL ADMASSU entreated the audience to “work against the ethnographic gaze,” he was driving at a larger quandary: “What are ways of seeing and valuing the world that fall outside of this hegemonic epistemology?” DAVID FORTIN, a member of the Canadian collective Architects Against Housing Alienation, followed up this line of inquiry by citing elder Winnie Pitawanakwat: “How can someone own the land? Do they think they own the trees too? What about the birds, the animals, the insects?”
10/6: Showing Up
LIVESTREAM — Last week, the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture convened their third annual joint research conference on the topic of “resilient futures.” Following an opening keynote from WORKac co-founder and Columbia GSAPP dean emerita AMALE ANDRAOS, the conference split into four tracks, each with its own plenary, research, and special sessions. Over two days, academics and practitioners discussed topics ranging from architecture’s limited relationship to site to the ways in which histories of racial exclusion, removal, and isolation are tied to unequal exposure to environmental hazards.
Most design projects, the panelists agreed, are insufficient in scope and imagination to meet the scale of the problems at hand. But architect and educator RICHARD MOHLER noted, with a certain sense of optimism, how students are increasingly interested in equitable, ecological, politicized design. He shared the advice he gives to pupils: “The first step is showing up, if you don’t show up you will not affect change.”
10/6: Artificial Borders
WEST HARLEM — “You often encounter human settlements that have a very long history, and at some point in their existence, somebody, some force, drew a border near them,” said environmental historian C.J. ALVAREZ at a lecture on the natural and built environments of the US-Mexico border held at CUNY. “Whether [the inhabitants of those settlements] liked it or not, they became border people.”
Alvarez spoke about the emergence of border settlements between the two countries as facilitators of trade and transport of resources. He also raised concerns about the environmental challenges that hostile borders can pose. For instance, consecutive water treaties that were meant to fairly distribute shared natural resources like the Colorado River weren’t upheld; though the river flows down into northern Mexico en route to the Sea of Cortez, only 10 percent of its water makes it across the border, due to damming. “[It] has been very tense and very unpleasant over the years in all kinds of different ways,” stressed Alvarez. “In many ways the hardening of the US-Mexico border [is also] part of the history of technology, of mapping technology, of surveillance technology, of engineering technology.”
10/7: Open to the Public
MONTREAL — On Friday afternoon, staffers at the Canadian Centre for Architecture gathered for a routine planning meeting that just so happened to be livestreamed. CHARLIE-ANNE CÔTÉ, ALEXANDRA LYN, and LEV BRATISHENKO did a fairly good job pretending not to notice; indeed, they may have had prior practice. (The broadcast was part of the museum’s third annual Institutional Performance Festival.) The trio gathered around a Miro board and brainstormed potential themes for a new public program they tentatively called The Alternatives Around Us. Parsing food and recycling systems, as well as modes of activism and community, they sketched out a discursive framework Côté termed the “architecture of logistics.” Was it a necessary exercise? No. Did it have its boring moments, as the website description promised it would? Certainly. Did I enjoy it? I’m not embarrassed to say that I did.
10/10: Echoes of Silence
UPPER WEST SIDE — Diné (Navajo) composer RAVEN CHACON began his lecture at Columbia GSAPP with recordings taken at the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico, sites known for their quietness. Using methods of amplification, Chacon is able to generate a new sonic terrain from putative silence. He noted that his work doesn’t “try to explain or document the earth, the land, or its animals,” and instead foregrounded processes of distortion. This subversion of the field recording’s ability to index its surroundings expresses a major theme of his practice—how sound changes as it migrates through space.
Chacon also works through noise and volume. Take Drum Grid, created with a relay of drummers stationed at street corners who activated “their potential to change the language of [a] neighborhood,” he said. Another piece, The Ears Between Worlds are Always Speaking, required listeners to physically traverse the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum in Athens, Greece, to hear the refugee narratives that are projected from long-range acoustic devices (commonly used as sonic weapons). The lecture ended as it began, with echoes of silence. Chacon discussed Silent Choir, a document of the Standing Rock protests, and the Pulitzer-winning composition Voiceless Mass, which dwells in the dying resonances of a cathedral pipe organ. Mere description doesn’t do these pieces justice; luckily, a recording of the full event is available for free online.
EYES ON SKYLINE
In Skyline 86, readers were curious to know why Billy Fleming got stuck in Greenland.
IN THE NEWS
In the week ahead…
Neue Galerie Archtober Filmbar: Women of the Bauhaus & Making Space
6:00 PM EDT | Archtober, Neue Galerie New York
Engaging Pluralism with Walter Benn Michaels, Scott Colman
6:30 PM EDT | Rice University School of Architecture
Harm Reduction and Beyond: Transatlantic Perspectives with Sebastian Bayer, Thomas Bürk, Machteld Busz, Nancy Campbell, Tori Gruber, Celia Joyce, Tamara Oyola-Santiago
6:30 PM EDT | 1014 | Space for Ideas
Denominator with Urs Fischer
6:00 PM EDT | Gagosian
Policy Forensics & Quantifying What If with Shawn Rickenbacker
12:30 PM EDT | Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Urban Studies and Planning
The Little Things with Thomas Kelley, Carrie Norman
1:30 PM EDT | University of Texas Austin School of Architecture
Geostories with Rania Ghosn
6:30 PM EDT | Syracuse University School of Architecture
The Albuquerque Indian Boarding School with Ted Jojola
1:00 PM EDT | Archtober, AIA New York | Center for Architecture, Indigenous Society of Architecture, Planning, and Design
People’s Architects with Reto Geiser, Igor Marjanović, Shantel Blakely, Andrew Colopy
5:00 PM EDT | Rice University School of Architecture
A Queer History of the Women’s House of Detention with Hugh Ryan
6:30 PM EDT | New York Public Library
Architectural Record Innovation Conference with Marlon Blackwell, Li Hu, Huang Wenjing, Paloma Strelitz, Carol Ross Barney, Bjarke Ingels, Monica Rhodes, Florian Idenburg, Jing Liu, Tomas Rossant, Francis Kéré
7:30 AM EDT | Architectural Record
Transforming Tragedy: From Pulse Nightclub to onePULSE Foundation with Barbara Poma, Sebastian Baillet
6:00 PM EDT | Archtober, AIA New York | Center for Architecture
Answering a Call to Action with Anik Pearson, Ruth Ro, Pascale Sablan, Elsie St. Léger, Bolanle Williams-Oley
6:00 PM EDT | AIA New York | Center for Architecture, National Organization of Minority Architects
Society for American City & Regional Planning History 2022 Harlem Conference Keynote with Paul Farber
6:00 PM EDT | City College of New York Spitzer School of Architecture
Abolition Geography with Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Lisa Lowe, Shellyne Rodriguez, Nikhil Pal Singh
7:00 PM EDT | Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
Our listings are constantly being updated. Check the events page regularly for up-to-date listings and submit events through this link.
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